Feedback,  Leadership,  Organization

The Importance of Peer Feedback in Self-Managing Organizations

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’ve written about how to give effective feedback using the EPIQ Feedback Model. That’s an important part of building a strong feedback culture, but there’s more to it than that. In any organization, but especially in a self-managing organization, we must have strong peer feedback loops in place in order for the organization to build a feedback culture.

Why exactly is a strong feedback culture so important in self-managing organizations? Well, self-managing organizations distribute leadership and decision-making. Doing so comes with a lot of benefits. But if people are unable to effectively manage themselves and make decisions, a self-managing organization will inevitably fail.

Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters can certainly help make a self-managing organization robust. Read more: “What does an agile coach at Spotify do?”. But just adding coaches isn’t enough. We need a culture of feedback that comes from within. And that’s much easier with peer feedback loops in place.

How to tell if your feedback culture is in trouble

Organizations that have poor feedback cultures usually starts exhibiting some or several of the following bad smells:

  • relationships are deteriorating (the fewer and weaker relationships you have, the harder it is to get help and thereby accomplish things)
  • growth has stalled (of people, the org, and the product)
  • subgroups are forming (us and them mentality, conflict, misalignment)
  • hierarchy is amplified (bottlenecks are introduced in the organization)
  • lead and cycle times are increasing (the teams and org becomes slower)
  • the wrong problems are being solved (misalignment)
  • quality is dropping (people are less passionate and take shortcuts which affect the product and user base)
  • teams are making poor or no decisions (management starts pushing decisions on teams)
  • morale is low (people stop having fun and quit)

The EPIQ Feedback Model helps on an individual level by making feedback better. But improving feedback is just one step. We also need to have a feedback culture that allows for the free flow of effective feedback. How?

Creating A Culture Of Feedback

Because the absence of peer feedback has such a negative impact on everything from performance to well-being, I pay close attention to an organization’s feedback culture. How?

I start by taking a step back and evaluating the health of the organization’s feedback culture as a whole. Over the years, I’ve put together a set of questions that help me assess this.

The Organizational Feedback Culture Assessment

  1. Is feedback delivered by peers or is it proxied via managers?
  2. Is feedback offered or is it pushed?
  3. Is it constructive and objective, or is it full of subjectiveness and labels?
  4. Do people have the necessary tools they need in order to offer and process peer feedback?
  5. Who are the role models and how do they work with feedback?
  6. How often do people receive/offer feedback?
  7. Who decides who people get feedback from?
  8. Do people think they receive enough feedback from their peers?
  9. What do people associate with the concept peer feedback?
  10. What does this look like in practice?

So how did I arrive at these 10 questions?

Getting to a culture of feedback in practice

Several years back, I worked in an organization that didn’t have a strong feedback culture in place and was struggling as a result. The Lead Team and I wanted to change that.

We knew that just having good feedback training or giving individuals a feedback model wasn’t enough. We knew that what we really needed was to create a strong feedback culture.

We started by identifying four different areas that we needed to invest in: Individuals, Teams, Organization, and Processes. In each of these areas, we tried a range of approaches. We coached individuals, trained teams, observed feedback conversations, facilitated open discussions, defined a process for the organization, and more.

Some things worked great. Others failed spectacularly. But what helped the most was having peer feedback loops in place and supported by a strong feedback culture.

The most important thing

I want to point out that peer feedback doesn’t just happen by itself. Organizations that want a healthy feedback culture need to actively invest in building peer feedback loops to make it happen and managers are key in this

I’d love to hear and learn from you on this topic. How does your organization work with peer feedback? Leave me a comment here, Tweet to me at @viktorcessan, or drop me an email on viktor@cessan.se.

Thanks for reading!

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